Saturday will mark the final regular season home game for 14 seniors, a class that’s seen its share of players leave, but the ones that have stayed have left a huge impact, racking up a 52-4 record, including 30-2 at home. Today my annual post to salute the seniors.
Brock Russell – Russell is one of the players every program has, a guy that transfers in and while he doesn’t see the field a whole lot, provides a lot of value. Russell transferred in from Bemidji State, and while he’s only saw action in three games, his value is unseen, on the practice fields each week.
Darius Anderson – Anderson transferred in as well, from Valley City State in 2012. Chris Klieman told Kolpack and I “he was one of the best scout players I have ever seen.” We were intrigued to see him on the field in spring ball in April of 2013 and we have seen flashes of his terrific speed and playmaking ability, last year’s game at Weber State he hauled in a 21 yard reception that set the Bison up for a touchdown. He’s still looking for his first career touchdown.
Jedre Cyr – One of the four standout walk-ons in this senior class, Cyr has become another in the long line of punishing Bison blocking fullbacks. Cyr’s story from D-G-F to NDSU has been well documented, you can watch our story we did on Jed from last December here. He scored his first career touchdown this season in the thrilling win over Northern Iowa, the same team he got his first career catch against. One of the more impressive young men I’ve ever met.
Jeremy Kelly – It’s been an interesting ride for this mountain of a man. Kelly went to the Air Force Academy out of high school in Wisconsin, but had to leave school, transferring to Crookston. He played two years there before transferring to NDSU. Former offensive line coach Scott Fuchs told me during fall camp of 2013, “watch out for this kid next year.” He was right. Kelly was inserted into the starting lineup at right guard and has never left. He showed his toughness last year, playing thru a miserable back injury and was named all-Missouri Valley newcomer. Twice he’s been selected the conference lineman of the week, and I believe he should be on the all-conference team this season. A huge addition, literally.
Nate Moody – Here’s the second major walk-on of this class, the pride of Dickinson, North Dakota was forced into the starting lineup in 2011 after injuries to Ryan Smith and Warren Holloway. He provided some valuable depth that season, he became a target for Brock Jensen in 2012, scoring two touchdowns, his first a terrific flipping catch against Prairie View. Moody spent most of last season on the sidelines with injuries to his knees, so he redshirted, coming back for this season and his impact has been big again. A huge catch against South Dakota State that set up a touchdown in that road win, he’s battled thru pain this entire season. Should get a loud cheer Saturday.
Luke Albers – Albers road to the field was blocked by some imposing tight ends in this program, Matt Veldman, Taylor Nelson and Kevin Vaadeland. Albers showed his talent last season, especially in the playoff run, catching two touchdowns, including in the national title game against Illinois State. He’s turned into a solid blocker and has good hands. Albers developed into a downfield threat, last year against Montana with a couple of huge receptions over the middle. He become a go-to-guy for Carson Wentz and thanks to his size, is nearly impossible for cornerbacks to bring down. Another in the long list of solid tight ends this program has produced.
Brian Schaetz – I first heard of Brian Schaetz in the 2011 season finale at Western Illinois, Craig Bohl told Kolpack and I that they had brought a redshirt walk-on on the trip but were hoping not to use him. That was a good decision and what a walk-on did they have. Schaetz in my mind is the toughest guy on the team, there hasn’t been a time when he hasn’t been dinged up, usually going up against two huge offensive lineman, and usually Schaetz wins the battle. His tackle against Aaron Wimberly at Iowa State was a huge early momentum swinger, if not that, just a great play. Schaetz had it again at Indiana State, where it seemed he swallowed Matt Adam in a late sack. He’s been a steady force on the defensive line, and has become a leader. Should be an all-conference player and will be difficult to replace.
Jordan Champion – The last of a group of players that came in from Arizona and has turned into a team captain. Champion bided his time before he saw the field, he may be remembered for a roughing the punter penalty against Georgia Southern in the 2012 semifinals, but shouldn’t be. Champion has become a solid corner and a vocal leader for this team. Champion became a starter last year and was very impressive, against Montana in 2014 he was tremendous with six solo tackles, a couple for loss. He had his struggles against the Griz this year, but to his credit has bounced back and had a solid senior year.
Andrew Bonnet – For my money, the most gifted athlete on the team and by far, the best hair. No one will forget the first time he lept over a defender (Prairie View in 2012) and each and every time he’s done it, it’s been more ridiculous (SDSU this year was the topper). Bonnet became a first-team conference player thanks to his blocking ability and his great hands, he was the fourth leading receiver on the team last year. He’s had some issues with drops this season, but still has the same amount of touchdowns as he did a year ago. NFL scouts have been sniffing around at him, and for good reason, he’ll have a shot to play at the next level just because of his ability. Watch for him to have a good postseason.
Ben LeCompte – The best punter in FCS football the last couple of years and hopefully he’ll be recognized for it this season. A four year starter, he came in after Matt Voigtlander graduated and has shown the value of investing scholarship money in a punter. He was tremendous against Georgia Southern in 2012, averaging 55 yards a punt in a tight game. How many times has LeCompte pinned a team deep in its own end? It’s not just punting either, he took over the kickoff duties in 2013 and has been great at that. He added placekicking early in the season, before the emergence of Cam Pedersen. He’s endeared himself to Bison fans and will have a shot at the next level in my opinion. He’s a first team All-American.
CJ Smith – Another home run recruit in this class. Smith made his impact known in his sophomore year, starting opposite Marcus Williams. Opposing teams threw at him and he got better because of it, coming up with the game clinching interception against Northern Iowa. Smith became that shutdown corner NDSU needed after Williams graduated and has turned into a team captain. His presence was notably missed at the season opener against Montana, and when he returned the secondary has been a different unit. Smith may not have the gaudy stats that Marcus had, but who will? He’s become a terrific corner, just ask Jake Wieneke and Gary Owens how good number 6 is.
Zach Vraa – Didn’t I write this last year? I did, you can read it here. Vraa decided to return the day after NDSU beat Illinois State and what a boost to the offense that was. He’s a tremendous football player and better person and what he’s meant to this football program is immeasurable. Vraa will hold every major receiving record at this university, catches, yards and touchdown receptions. His catch that tied the school’s touchdown receiving record was a thing of beauty, but I think the more impressive catch was the one he had on 4th and 10 against Northern Iowa this year, where he barely tapped down a foot to stay in bounds and keep the drive alive, that led to the game winning touchdown. Vraa’s impact can’t be understated, he’ll be a hall of famer years from now.
Joe Haeg – Hard to imagine a better success story than this guy. A walk-on from Brainerd High School, who turned into an All-American. Haeg stepped into the lineup at right tackle in 2012 and was very solid at that position for two years, missing just one game. He had the huge task of trying to replace Billy Turner and has done that without incident. Haeg thrived at left tackle, so much so that he became a first-team conference player and an All-American. His first start against Iowa State, he graded out at 100 percent. Pretty good start. He’s had a great senior season as well, especially considering the distractions with NFL scouts sniffing around him as well. Haeg in my mind will be an NFL draft pick come April, and the poster child for any walk-on at any school.
Carson Wentz – Admittedly, it will be difficult on Saturday for Wentz to come out of the helmet to be honored, much like Grant Olson in 2013, but not without a ton of emotion. Wentz in a short amount of time has become beloved by Bison fans, and you could tell from the outpouring of support he got after he broke his wrist. I remember the first time I saw Wentz in practice, changing plays at the line of scrimmage in spring ball 2012, and thinking, “Whoa, what do they have here?”. We saw glimpses that season, as he was the backup to Brock Jensen, with Esley Thorton moving to linebacker. Wentz even flashed some ability at wide receiver in the 2013 playoffs! When he became the starter, the offense moved to a new level, it didn’t start out well, trailing 14-0 to Iowa State, but as we found out, that’s how Wentz likes it, making impressive comebacks. He got better and better as the season went, showing his tough running style (which he paid for too, hurting his ankle against SDSU). His poise under pressure is second to none, the game winning drives against the Jacks and Illinois State will live forever in NDSU history. You can add the UNI game this year, because he never flinched in that game, despite a late fumble. His season has been cut short because of a broken wrist and we don’t know if he’ll play for the Bison again. He will play on Sundays though, his invite to the Senior Bowl despite playing just six games in 2015 is another indicator that his pro prospects are high. The loudest cheers for Saturday will be reserved for 11.
There you go folks. Not a huge class, but a supremely impressive one.